GLENDALE, Ariz - After Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Derek Morris blew a 100-foot shot past Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in the first period of the West final series opener on Sunday, the unexpected goal sent memory banks scurrying back a decade.
The exact date was Apr. 21, 2002. Detroit Red Wings' brilliant defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom beat Vancouver Canucks netminder Dan Cloutier with a similar shot near the end of the second period to break a tie in Game 3. It was the shot that turned around the second-round series. Down 2-0 with back-to-back losses at home, that Lidstrom goal rallied Detroit to a 4-2 series win and eventually another Stanley Cup championship.
So what sort of impact would this faux-pas have on Quick and the Kings? Not much it turned out as the Kings battled back after Morris' goal knotted the opener at 1-1 to score an important 4-2 victory. It was the third time in this playoffs that they opened with a win on the road.
"I couldn't have played it any differently," Quick said. "Just a lucky bounce. It happens.''
The Kings dominated this West final opener. They deserved to win and this would have been a crime if the Coyotes had pulled this one out, although they now have been outshot in 10 of their 12 playoffs games and won seven times in games they have been outshot.
One of the heroes for the Kings was their captain, Dustin Brown, who scored the game-winner two minutes and 11 seconds into the final period when he snared a pass in full stride from Kings 22-year-old defenceman Slava Voynov in the neutral zone. He beat Phoenix goalie Mike Smith with a pinpoint shot on his blocker side.
Brown set up linemate Anze Kopitar for the game's first goal and now has seven goals (three game-winners) and 13 points in 10 playoff games.
The same postseason that Lidstrom worked his magic with the Red Wings a decade ago, Brown turned heads in junior with the Guelph Storm. He scored 41 goals in the regular season and continued his fine play in the playoffs that spring when the Storm played host to the Memorial Cup tournament.
"He's the same player," said his Kings teammate Brad Richardson, who lined up against Brown many times in junior with the Owen Sound Attack. "He was annoying to play against. I couldn't stand him.
"But now I love the guy that he's my teammate. He's the kind of leader you want to play with. He doesn't say much in the dressing room, he just goes out and leads by the way he plays."
It has been well documented during this Kings playoff run that Los Angeles general manager Dean Lombardi briefly shopped around his captain after he landed forward Jeff Carter in a trade with the Columbus Blues Jackets for defenceman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick.
"Who knows whether that was true or just a rumour," Richardson said. "But maybe it sparked Dustin. He had a better second half and an unbelievable playoffs."
Brown peaked at 33 goals in 2007-08, but saw his production drop to only 22 goals this season after a slow start that saw him score only 18 times in the 63 games before the trade deadline. After the deadline Brown finished with four goals and 18 points in 19 games.
The Coyotes did not have answer for Kopitar, Brown and Justin Williams in the opener. They combined for 15 of the Kings 48 shots on goal and outplayed Phoenix's top line of Martin Hanzel, Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney.
Sometimes the trades you don't make are the best ones. But when Lombardi gave up Johnson, the move certainly raised eyebrows. However, after the way Voynov, who had six shots on goal, and Alec Martinez have performed it was deal worth making.
And holding on to Brown proved to be the right move, too.
Odds and ends
The Kings have now won a club record six straight playoff games, dating back to Apr. 22 ... The Kings are now 6-0 on the road in the playoffs. The NHL record for consecutive road wins in one playoff year is seven, last done by Chicago in 2010 ... The Kings also have killed off 24 consecutive penalties, back to Game 5 in their first-round finale against the Canucks ... The Kings not only put 48 shots on Smith, they also missed the net 17 times and had another 25 blocked for 90 shot attempts to Phoenix's 46 (27 shots, eight missed, 11 blocked).
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